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Hamilton on pole as new F1 qualifying format flops

Hamilton on pole as new F1 qualifying format flops

MELBOURNE: Formula One’s new qualifying system faces an immediate revision after a woeful debut at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday that failed to deliver the promised shake-up of the established order and was panned by drivers and abandoned by fans who walked out on the embarrassing anti-climax.

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position with a time of 1 minute, 23.837 at the Albert Park circuit, three-tenths of a second faster than Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, with third and fourth place filled by the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

The new format of rolling eliminations every 90 seconds produced plenty of action, and some confusion, in the first qualifying session, but in the third segment, which decided the top end of the grid for Sunday’s race, most drivers elected not to go out on the track and instead saved their tires for the race.

With three minutes remaining on the clock, the leading drivers were out of their cars and fans were streaming out of the grandstands.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, a key player on the F1 strategy group that voted in favor of the new qualifying format despite warnings of such a possible anti-climactic finish, admitted it needed immediate review.

The top three qualifiers wasted little time in condemning the format as a “wrong” decision and bad for fans.

“We said at the beginning it wasn’t the right way,” three-time world champion Hamilton told reporters.

Four-times world champion Vettel said: “We all knew what was going to happen. I didn’t think it was very exciting. And in the end for the people in the grandstands, I don’t feel it’s the right way to go.”

Ironically, the new format saw little change in Formula One’s status quo, with no major surprises in the top eight positions.

Max Verstappen will line up fifth for Toro Rosso, with his team mate Carlos Sainz seventh behind Williams’s Felipe Massa.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will line up eighth on the grid as the first eliminated from Q3. His team mate Daniil Kvyat was among the first seven knocked out of Q1, however, along with both drivers from Manor Racing, Haas and Sauber.

Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer will start 14th behind McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, the Briton sneaking into Q2 after the clock had run down on the initial session with a last flying lap that tipped Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson out.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2016

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